!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Christian Defense League (CDL)
Christian Defense League (CDL) was a participant or observer in the following events:
One of a number of semi-official ‘Christian Identity’ logos. [Source: KingIdentity (.com)]The “Christian Identity” theology, formerly a fairly benign expression of what is known as “British-Israelism” or “Anglo-Israelism,” begins to spread throughout the US and Canada, particularly on the west coasts of these nations. This belief holds that white Americans and Canadians are the real descendants of the Biblical tribes of Israel. In 2003, author Nicole Nichols, an expert on far-right racist and religious groups in America, will define the concept of “Christian Identity” as practiced by many white supremacist and separatist groups. Christian Identity is not an organization, she will write, but an ideology that many organizations have adopted in some form or fashion. Christian Identity “elevates white supremacy and separatism to a Godly ideal,” she will write, calling it “the ideological fuel that fires much of the activity of the racist far right.” According to Christian Identity theology, Jews are neither the “true Israelites” nor the true “chosen people” of God; instead, Christian Identity proponents claim, Jews are descended from an Asiatic people known as the Khazars, who settled near the Black Sea during the Middle Ages. [Nicole Nichols, 2003; Anti-Defamation League, 2005; Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 5/30/2006] In 2005, the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance will write, “Followers tend to be involved in political movements opposing gun control, equal rights to gays and lesbians, and militia movements,” and quote Michael Barkun, an expert on radical-right groups, as saying, “This virulent racist and anti-Semitic theology… is prevalent among many right-wing extremist groups and has been called the ‘glue’ of the racist right.” [Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 5/30/2006]
Beginnings; 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' - In the 1920s, William J. Cameron, editor of the Dearborn Independent weekly newspaper, popularized the anti-Semitic hoax manuscript called “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which purported to detail the “secret teachings” of Judaism, including the planned takeover of the world’s governments, the subjugation of non-Semitic races, and the bizarre, cannibalistic rituals supposedly practiced by Jews. [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Wesley Swift and 'Mud People' - In the 1940s, a former Methodist minister, Wesley Swift, started his own church, later known as the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. Swift had deep ties to a number of radical right-wing groups including the Ku Klux Klan; Swift and his associates set the stage for the mutation of the Christian Identity into a loosely organized set of virulently anti-Semitic, racist belief systems that will come to be grouped together under the “Christian Identity” rubric. Swift himself taught that only the white race was created in the form of God, while Asian and African races were created from the “beasts of the fields,” and thusly are subhuman creations. In Swift’s version of Genesis, Eve, the wife of the first “true” man Adam, was seduced by The Serpent, who masqeueraded as a white man. Eve bore a son, Cain, who is the actual father of the Jewish people. This reinterpretation, sometimes called the “two-seed” or “seedliner” theory, supports the Christian Identity propensity to demonize Jews, whom Swift and others labeled the “spawn of Satan.” Today’s white Europeans and their American and Canadian descendants, Swift taught, are descended from the “true son” of Adam and Eve, Abel, and are the actual “chosen people” of God. Some Christian Identity adherents go even farther, claiming that subhuman “pre-Adamic” races existed and “spawned” the non-white races of the world, which they label “mud people.” [Nicole Nichols, 2003; Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Permeates Racist, Far-Right Groups - By the 1960s, a new group of Christian Identity leaders emerges to spread the Identity theology through the radical, racist right in America and Canada, popularizing the once-obscure ideology. Most prominent among them are three disciples of Swift: James K. Warner, William Potter Gale, and Richard Butler. Warner, who will move to Louisiana and play a leading role in the fight against civil rights, founds the Christian Defense League and the New Christian Crusade Church. Gale, an early leader of the Christian Defense League and its paramilitary arm, the California Rangers, goes on to found the Posse Comitatus (see 1969), the group that will help bring about the sovereign citizen movement. Gale will later found the Committee of the States and serve as the “chief of staff” of its “unorganized militia.” Butler moves Swift’s Church of Jesus Christ Christian to Idaho and recasts it as the neo-Nazi group Aryan Nations (see Early 1970s). Under the leadership of Butler, Gale, Warner, and others, Christian Identity soon permeates most of the major far-right movements, including the Klan and a racist “skinhead” organization known as the Hammerskins. It also penetrates many extreme anti-government activist groups. The Anti-Defamation League will write, “The resurgence of right-wing extremism in the 1990s following the Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992) and Waco standoffs (see April 19, 1993) further spread Identity beliefs.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2005] Nichols will write: “Christian Identity enclaves provide a trail of safe havens for movement activists, stretching from Hayden Lake in northern Idaho (the Aryan Nations stronghold) to Elohim City on the Oklahoma/Arkansas border (see 1973 and After). Many white supremacists on the run from federal authorities have found shelter and support from Christian Identity followers.” Some organizations such as the Montana Militia are headed by Identity adherents, but do not as a group promote the theology. [Nicole Nichols, 2003; Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Bringing Forth the Apocalypse - Many Christian Identity adherents believe that the Biblical Apocalypse—the end of the world as it is currently known and the final ascendancy of select Christians over all others—is coming soon. Unlike some Christians, Identity adherents do not generally believe in the “rapture,” or the ascendancy of “saved” Christians to Heaven before the Apocalypse ensues; instead, Identity followers believe Jesus Christ will return to Earth only after the time of the “Tribulation,” a great battle between good and evil, which will set the stage for the return of Christ and the final transformation of the world. Identity followers believe it is their duty to prepare for the Apocalypse, and some believe it is their duty to help bring it about. They tend to cast the Apocalypse in racial terms—whites vs. nonwhites. Identity adherents believe that worldly institutions will collapse during the “end times,” and therefore tend to distrust such institutions, making Identity theology appealing to anti-government ideologies of groups such as militia, “Patriot,” and sovereign citizens groups. [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
21st Century Identity - In the 21st century, Christian Identity groups are strongest in the Pacific Northwest of America and Canada, and the US Midwest, though Identity churches can be found throughout the US and in other parts of Canada. Identity churches also exist in, among other nations, Ireland, Great Britain, Australia, and South Africa (see June 25, 2003). The Anti-Defamation League will write: “Yet while spread far it is also spread thin. Estimates of the total number of believers in North America vary from a low of 25,000 to a high of 50,000; the true number is probably closer to the low end of the scale. Given this relatively small following, its extensive penetration of the far right is all the more remarkable.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Identity Violence - Identity adherents commit a number of violent acts, often against government and/or financial institutions, in an outsized proportion to their small numbers. In 1983, Identity adherent Gordon Kahl kills two US Marshals who attempt to arrest him on a parole violation, and kills an Arkansas sheriff before finally being gunned down by authorities (see February 13, 1983 and After). The white supremacist terrorist group The Order (see Late September 1983) contains a number of Identity members, including David Tate, who kills a Missouri Highway Patrol officer while attempting to flee to an Identity survivalist compound (see April 15, 1985). During the 1980s, small Identity groups such as The New Order (or The Order II) and the Arizona Patriots commit bombings and armored car robberies. After the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), Identity minister Willie Ray Lampley attempts a number of bombings (see November 9, 1995). In 1996, the Montana Freeman, led by Identity members, “stands off” federal authorities for 81 days (see March 25, 1996). Between 1996 and 1998, Eric Robert Rudolph, who has connections to Identity ministers such as Nord Davis and Dan Gayman, bombs an Atlanta gay bar (see February 21, 1997), several abortion clinics (see October 14, 1998), and the Atlanta Summer Olympics (see July 27, 1996 and After). In 1999, Identity member and former Aryan Nations security guard Buford Furrow goes on a shooting spree at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles (see August 10, 1999). [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Entity Tags: Eric Robert Rudolph, David Charles Tate, Willie Ray Lampley, William Potter Gale, Committee of the States, Church of Jesus Christ Christian, Christian Defense League, California Rangers, Anti-Defamation League, William J. Cameron, Arizona Patriots, Buford Furrow, Aryan Nations, Wesley Swift, New Christian Crusade Church, The New Order, Nord Davis, Nicole Nichols, Ku Klux Klan, The Order, Michael Barkun, Montana Militia, James K. Warner, Hammerskins, Richard Girnt Butler, Posse Comitatus, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, Gordon Kahl, Dan Gayman, Freemen
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism
The Aryan Nations logo. [Source: Southern Poverty Law Center]Aerospace engineer and white racist Richard Butler, who departed California in the early 1970s and moved into a rural farmhouse in Hayden Lake, Idaho, founds and develops one of the nation’s most notorious and violent white separatist groups, the Aryan Nations. Butler’s 20-acre farmhouse becomes the compound for the group and its affiliated church, the Church of Jesus Christ Christian; Butler and his nascent organization envision a “whites-only” “homeland” in the Pacific Northwest. At age 11, Butler read a serialized novel in Liberty Magazine, depicting the takeover of the US by “race-mixing Bolsheviks” that deeply impressed him. As a young man, he worked as an aeronautical engineer in India, where he was fascinated by the Indian caste structure and the concept of racial purity. In 1941 he left a Los Angeles church after concluding that the preacher was spreading Communist doctrine. During World War II, as an Army engineer, he became fascinated by the German military, and later recalls that he “was thrilled to see the movies of the marching Germans.… In those days, all we knew was that Hitler hated communists, and so did my folks—as we did as teenagers.” In the 1950s, Butler was enthralled by radio broadcasts of then-Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) and his “Red scare” accusations, and sent money to support McCarthy’s political campaigns. During that time, Butler met William Potter Gale, another white supremacist who went on to found the Posse Comitatus (see 1969). Butler held a high position in the Christian Defense League, an organization founded by the Reverend Wesley Swift and described by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as “virulently anti-Semitic,” until 1965, and shortly thereafter became a mail-order “ordained minister” of Christian Identity, a white supremacist offshoot of the Christian church (see 1960s and After). Butler buys the farmhouse in Hayden Lake and founds his own “Christian Posse Comitatus,” and thereafter founds the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. The two groups merge into what later becomes known as Aryan Nations. [Washington Post, 6/2/2003; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.